History of St. Vincent De Paul Parish
1837 – 1843
Prior to 1837 there was only one Catholic Church in the St. Louis area, The Cathedral, today we know it as the Old Cathedral. Bishop Rosati was tasked with bringing the word of God to the people of St. Louis. Bishop Rosati had a solution. There was a section of St. Louis called Frenchtown today known as Soulard and LaSalle neighborhoods. This new settlement was populated with descendants of the original fur traders. People with names like Cérre and Soulard lived in this area. Bishop Rosati wanted to put a church here to serve the growing population south of the city as well as relieve some of the congestion at the Cathedral.
Mrs. Julia Soulard, widow of Antoine Soulard was ready to dispose of her estate. Bishop Rosati needed land and Mrs. Soulard had land. She also wanted to ensure that a church was built in this area. She donated some land and Bishop Rosati purchased two more plots from Madame Soulard for $4,500 (to be paid in four equal installments of $1,125). These lands were to be used for a church as well as a seminary to help train the priests who would be needed for a growing city. The boundaries for the donated land were Marion St. to the south, Carroll St. to the north, 8th St. to the east and 9th St. to the west. These lots measured one hundred and fifty fees by three hundred feet.
Bishop Rosati asked a fellow Vincentian to help develop a parish in this area. He chose Father John Timon, C.M. Not only was Father Timon the type of leader needed to take on this task. He would one day become the bishop of the diocese, provincial of this order and Vicar General of the Diocese of St. Louis. Father Timon also asked another Vincentian to help bring this parish to completion. He asked Father Francis Xavier Dahmen, C.M. He would conduct the masses on Sunday in German for the congregation as the majority of the members were German.
On September 24, 1838, Bishop Rosati formed four parishes for the city of St. Louis. He created St. Patrick’s to the North, St. Francis Xavier to the West, Holy Trinity (later to be St. Vincent De Paul) to the South and the Cathedral in the center. This would accommodate the growing Catholic population in St. Louis.
On the southwest corner of the land donated by Julia Soulard, work began on the church. This church was to de dedicated to the Holy Trinity. This was not to be. The cornerstone was to be laid on May 5, 1839 but it was raining so hard that the official beginning had to be postponed until the next Sunday. Work proceeded slowly for many reasons, money being the predominate reason for the slow progress. It was decided that they would rent some row houses to generate funds for the construction. An economic downturn caused the rents to dry up, thus construction halted. The church sat idle for many months. A very severe winter caused more damage. Rain and snow left the construction in bad shape. Because of the economic conditions at the time people stole the planks used to cover the foundation and other materials were taken as well.
One of the row houses used by Bishop Rosati was made into a chapel. St. Mary’s Chapel collapsed due to lack of care and rain damage. The day after the collapse the Vincentian seminarians called a holiday, and were given permission to dismantle the foundation of the crumbling Holy Trinity Church and bring those materials one block north of the original site where the Vincentians would begin construction of a church of their own. This was the beginning for St. Vincent de Paul Church. It was February 1843.
Bishop Rosati died on a trip to Europe, and he never saw the dream he had of building the Catholic Church in St. Louis. Not all was lost. Rome appointed another bishop to take the helm here in St. Louis. His name was Father Peter Kenrick. Bishop Kenrick served for 50 years and helped build a strong Catholic Community in St. Louis.
1844 – 1869
They brought the stones from Holy Trinity to the new site of St. Vincent’s and the cornerstone was laid in February 1843. One of the stipulations the Vincentians made was this would be a “Vincentian” parish, owned by the Vincentians and staffed by the Vincentians. Bishop Kenrick was more than happy to agree to this request. He did not have to worry about funding or staffing this parish. He had seen the difficulties that Bishop Rosati dealt with and was relieved that someone else was taking over that burden.
Father Timon had his work cut out for him but he was up to the task. The Vincentians still owned the land where Holy Trinity was supposed to be built. Now they would repurpose it and follow the path of St. Vincent. On the original site, the Visitation sisters ran a school from 1846 to 1858; the Daughters of Charity ran a mental hospital here until 1895 when it moved to the county. Father Timon realized that he needed more land, he went to Benjamin Soulard, and his wife and asked if could purchase the block just west and north of the lot previously designated as the one chosen for the original church. Father purchase Benjamin Soulard’s block bounded by Marion, Decatur (now 9th St.), Park and Buell (now 10th St.) for $12,500. Soulard’s house remained on the property as part of the price. This became the residence for the seminarians who had moved from Perryville to St. Louis in 1842. They lived there until 1848 when they moved to Carondelet.
Early parish boundaries were as follows:
Starting at Geyer, runs North along the river to Rutger West on Rutger to 7th, North on 7th to Hickory West on Hickory 10 11th, South on 11th to Morrison, West on Morrison to 13th, South on 13th to Park, West on Park to Missouri, South on Missouri to Geyer, East on Geyer to the river.